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Re: DJB's students release 44 *nix software vulnerability advisories
From: Jonathan Rockway <jrockw2 () uic edu>
Date: Wed, 22 Dec 2004 00:06:15 -0600

On 21 Dec 2004, at 3:22 PM, laffer1 wrote:

As for the other comments in this thread about telling the vendor early, I personally feel it helps users if the vendor has a few days to look at the hole and devise a patch BEFORE everyone on the planet knows about it. You punish users of software in addition to vendors. All software has a security problem of one kind or another, and its silly to think that a perfect application will every be written.

Why are users using insecure software? Or rather, why do users accept the fact that their software may be insecure?

Besides, full disclosure helps the users too.

I remember a few years ago when the major SSH remote hole was found. I read about it on slashdot between classes. Since there was no patch yet, but there was an exploit, I ssh'd into my home machine and turned off ssh. Even if there wasn't an exploit, I wasn't going to leave a vulnerable service up and running. By the time I got home, sshd was patched, and I installed that patch. If nobody had disclosed the threat to me, I could have been compromised. But, because I was notified, I was able to take preventative measures.

The sooner someone told me about the problem, the sooner I was able to protect myself from the threat.

Full disclosure is important because vendors will drag their feet if they're the only ones who know about it. Imagine you are a student and have a paper due "whenever". When are you going to write the paper? Today? No, you'll do it later. After all, nothing bad happens if you don't do it, and not doing it is much easier than doing it.

Humans and software vendors are LAZY. If there's no reason to do something, they won't do it. Full disclosure forces the issue and puts everything out in the open. No "it'll be ready in 90 days" stalling. It will be ready NOW or users will look to more secure alternatives. They will make the first move and choose a program that doesn't have security problems to begin with. This is better for everyone (well, except people with financial interest in selling crappy software. that doesn't particularly upset me, though.)

I do have more sympathy for open source developers. They are not trying to profit from the security of their software, so I think they deserve a little leeway. BUT, fixes are usually contributed by outside experts. The experts can't just guess "Oh, I bet Person A of the NASM project needs help with security problems. I'll send him an email and ask if he needs help." They need to know about the vulnerability before they can attempt to fix it. If they're reading a full disclosure mailing list, they'll know about the problem. Then they can code up a fix, email it to the author, and bang, it's fixed. It all starts with full disclosure, though. (Without full disclosure, the author of the software would be on his own to fix it. With full disclosure, someone more experienced can help him out. That's a Good Thing and is what makes the Open Source movement work.)

Full disclosure makes the Internet more secure. It forces vendors to fix their broken software, and it forces users to update their broken software. Less broken-ness is good for everybody.

If you disagree, you are probably writing broken software and are afraid of what your users will do to you when they find out about it. Good luck with that, and remember: don't shoot the messenger. If you wrote the buggy code, you have only yourself to blame.

Regards,
--
Jonathan Rockway <jrockw2 () uic edu>


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